Postmodernism: An Opportunity for the Church
Postmodernism is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and often misapplied concepts in the Church today. It is generally reduced to nothing more than "moral relativism" which is certainly reinforced by postmodernism however the scientific age, or modernism, had long ago advanced moral relativism in the form of utilitarianism; i.e. the question of "what works?" rather than "what is right?" I do believe that upon closer examination, postmodernism is overstated in regards to its impact on the culture as modernity remains an equally influential impulse. However, Dick Keyes of the L'Abri Fellowship in Massachusetts, makes the point that postmodernism could be compared to a flood which has receded. "While the water may be gone, the damage nonetheless remains."
Postmodernism as a philosophical reality is best remembered by the "political correctness" that seems to have peaked in the nineties. Certainly some of this same thinking remains in its varied forms of multiculturalism and "tolerance" as the ultimate virtue, however most serious thinkers agree that postmodernism is in decline in terms of being an ongoing philosophical influence. Regardless postmodernism has indeed created a state of reality that does offers challenge to both contemporary culture and the Church that must be understood.
Lenin, in his defense of totalitarianism as a necessary tool for the implementation of communism, which was the ultimate expression of humanistic modernism in government, said: "You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet." Postmodernism reacts correctly to this claim by saying: "But you never made an omelet."
Postmodernism rightly observes that reliance upon the tools of modernity and all of its modernistic assumptions about the nature of man and his alleged ability to perfect himself have ultimately and utterly failed. A brief survey of the 20th century will quickly confirm this. Simply consider that World Wars I and II were responsible for than 70 million deaths. The Soviet Union under Josef Stalin is estimated to have killed between 34 and 49 million of their own citizens. Mao Zedong is estimated to have killed or starved to death more than 63 million human beings during his 26-year reign over communist China. And roughly 9 million people died during the Russian Revolution of 1917 to 1922. In fact, four times as many people were killed in the 20th century by their own governments than killed in all the wars with other nations during the same period. And the vast majority of these governments were founded upon these very same secular modernistic assumptions. According to The Black Book of Communism, published in 1999, the number of dead directly resulting from communism since the Russian Revolution in 1917 adds up, in the 20th century alone, to more than 100 million. It is generally believed that the 20th century was the bloodiest in all of human history, an ironic fact given the secular humanistic hope which climaxed in the 20th century.
But some might dismiss these as acts of national aggression or outright evil carried out by a few moral monsters such as Hitler, Mao, and Stalin and not necessarily evidence refuting modernistic humanism. What about the hope offered by 20th century science in addressing many of humanity's personal and societal ills such as disease and poverty? Ironically, one of the most devastating plagues in all of human history occurred during the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 in which an estimated 20 to 40 million people died worldwide. The "Spanish Flu" as it was known, killed four times as many people in a single year than the Bubonic Plague or "Black Death" that occurred from 1347-1351. Roughly 28 percent of Americans were infected with Spanish Flu killing an estimated 675,000.
The Spanish Flu epidemic from which no nation or culture was immune is cited as the most devastating epidemic in all of recorded world history. While we have indeed succeeded in wiping out many diseases many more continue to appear such as AIDS, West Nile Virus, SARS as well as highly resilient varieties of age-old ailments such as cholera, pneumonia, malaria, and dysentery. In fact, in the latter half of the 20th century, almost 30 new human diseases were identified. One of the contributing factors to the high death rates resulting from the Spanish Flu, particularly among the Western nations, was the less than vigorous response to early outbreaks. Some speculate that this was due to the increased reliance upon science and technology that arose during World War I. As such, most people living with the expectation of remedy implicit in modern society remained un-alarmed until it was too late.
the post-enlightenment (modernism) elevation of human reason
and ingenuity as the ultimate solutions to mankind's real
and moral dilemma have failed utterly. To be continued...
Copyright S. Michael Craven 2006
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S. Michael Craven is the Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to recapture and demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.